Review by Sean Boelman
The Cannes Film Festival is back for its 74th edition after having to take a break for a year due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Filled with some highly anticipated premieres of both auteur-driven films and new discoveries, the lineup should have any cinephile excited for the state of film for the rest of the year. Unfortunately, we at disappointment media were unable to attend the festival in person, but we are providing remote coverage where possible. Here are some of our thoughts! We will be updating this article with more capsule reviews as we screen additional films.
The Italian period piece Small Body starts out very interestingly and loses steam over the course of its hour and a half runtime. Laura Samani’s film, about a woman who sets out on a journey to save the soul of her stillborn child, is a visually stunning exploration of spirituality for much of its first act. However, after about thirty or so minutes, it settles into a much more conventional rhythm resembling a traditional road movie. It’s still good by all means, just not as great as the opening shows the potential to be.
Simon Coulibaly Gillard’s coming-of-age drama Aya certainly has some emotionally affecting moments, but it falls victim to convention a bit too often for its own good. Following a young woman who faces an identity crisis as her home is threatened, there is obviously a very important message here, although the pacing does detract from it a bit. The visuals are frequently gorgeous, and Gillard is clearly very talented, but from a narrative standpoint, it feels a bit too much like things we have already seen.
Sometimes, an inspirational crowd-pleasing drama is what is called for, and the Maxime Roy film The Heroics fits that bill wonderfully. It’s a pretty simple film about a former junkie who is trying to make himself into a better person for the sake of both himself and his kids. At times, it feels like it’s a bit too self-serious, but there are plenty of absolutely heart-wrenching moments sprinkled throughout. François Creton’s leading performance is brilliant as well, bringing a lot of emotion to the role.
Babi Yar. Context
In terms of documentaries composed solely of archive footage, Sergey Loznitsa’s Babi Yar. Context is pretty brilliant. It’s simple yet effective in what it hopes to depict, the tragic massacre of thousands of Jewish people in the Ukraine. It’s undoubtedly a difficult film to watch because of how brutal some of the footage it utilizes is. At two hours in length, it’s perhaps a bit longer than it needs to be, but it achieves the point it is trying to make quite effectively.
Returning to Reims (Fragments)
Based on Didier Eribon’s novel, Jean-Gabriel Périot’s documentary Returning to Reims (Fragments) offers a very compelling portrait of the French working class. However, despite some excellent archive footage and great narration from Adèle Haenel, this feels more like an essay and less like a film, for better or worse. It argues its point quite effectively, but it may not connect with viewers in a way that will allow its message to be entirely resonant. There are a lot of really good things going on here, but it won’t expand beyond the audience that is already interested in it.
A Radiant Girl
Sandrine Kimberlain’s coming-of-age drama A Radiant Girl joins the tradition of the great Holocaust comedies that have a sense of optimism to them which one wouldn’t expect from a film like this, even if it doesn’t live up to the same level. Rebecca Marder’s performance is absolutely exceptional, bringing a lot of personality to a character archetype that has been done many times before. Yet even though the film might struggle with a genre that is overstuffed, it sticks the landing in a way that won’t soon be forgotten.
Zero Fucks Given
Almost entirely dependent on the success of the lead performance from Adèle Exarchopoulos, Julie Lecoustre and Emmanuel Marre’s dramedy Zero Fucks Given doesn’t live up to the enormous amount of potential it has. The first half of the film, following the protagonist as her world falls down around her, is really compelling, but the second half struggles to keep up the strong momentum. There are a lot of really good things going on in the film, but it’s a bit too meandering for its own good.
Little Palestine (Diary of a Siege)
The ACID-selected documentary Little Palestine (Diary of a Siege) makes an expectedly compelling and emotional watch. A verité look at the residents of a Palestinian refugee camp in Syria, the narrative through-line in the film isn’t the strongest, but the footage that director Abdallah Al-Khatib utilizes to depict this political crisis is absolutely astounding. The film inspires in how it showcases the members of this community creating art and enjoying life despite all the turmoil that surrounds them, but it also calls attention to the important issues at hand.
One of the selections from the cancelled 2020 edition that were invited back to screen at the 2021 festival, Tony Gatlin’s film Tom Medina is gorgeous, but it features a very wandering narrative. There is a point to all of the antics that the eponymous protagonist gets into, but it’s really conventional in a way that isn’t entirely satisfying. The highlight here is the performance from David Murgia, who gives a turn that is far better than everything that surrounds it.
A Corsican Summer
Pascal Tagnati’s film A Corsican Summer screened in the ACID sidebar to the Cannes Film Festival, a parallel section devoted to finding distribution for independent films from across the world, and it is definitely a very independent production. This very specific slice-of-life film about a group of people going about their routines one summer is completely stagnant in a narrative sense. The visuals are frequently gorgeous, and there are definitely some compelling vignettes, but they don’t amount to a compelling enough film to justify a two-hour-plus runtime.
The 2021 Cannes Film Festival runs from July 7-17.
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